How poor systems design can cause your UX strategy to fail

by | Jul 17, 2023 | User Experience

Detangle that UX ball of yarn

Has your grandmother or any other family member ever knitted you a sweater? If you were a baby once, and the likelihood is high, chances are you’ve worn something with wool, frills, lace, and bows.

A lot goes into a knitted sweater. Granted, it’s mostly wool and needles, but physically and emotionally, many things happen throughout the sweater-knitting journey.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the process, there’s nothing as enraging as when a grandchild, cat, or Marvel villain messes with the yarn, causing it to tangle. Why? Because putting it back together takes more blood, sweat, tears, and whisky than knitting the actual sweater. It’s a nightmare, and many people give up when this happens.

Bad systems design has a similar effect on the user experience (UX). A poorly designed system lacks clarity and coherence – making navigating, locating information, and getting the job done difficult.

Even the most well-thought-out strategy can crumble if the design of the underlying system is flawed. The result? A sad, half-knitted attempt at a UX strategy.


What’s the big deal about systems design in UX?

Just like yarn is critical for knitting, systems design forms the backbone of any UX strategy. It determines how information flows, how users navigate through interfaces, and, ultimately, how people perceive and interact with your product or service.

When these underlying systems and infrastructures are poorly designed, it can lead to a range of issues in the UX campaign, including:

  • Inefficient workflows: When systems design is complex and convoluted, so are its workflows. Users don’t want to go through boot camp to navigate a system. This frustration undermines the overall UX strategy and may lead to users closing the tab altogether.
  • Lack of integration: When systems aren’t properly connected, it can create disjointed user experiences, making it difficult for users to accomplish tasks across various platforms. Inconsistencies and fragmented interactions affect user confidence and negatively impact the success of your UX strategy.
  • Data inaccuracy and inconsistency: System design plays a significant role in ensuring data quality. Poorly designed systems can result in data integrity issues, leading to flawed decision-making, bad UX, and failure to impress your users.
  • Performance and reliability issues: Slow response times, frequent system crashes, or downtime can have a detrimental effect on the user experience. After all, no one will sit around and wait for your design to work.
  • Lack of scalability: A system without scalability can cause a bottleneck, especially when user bases expand, new features are introduced, or additional integrations are required. Limited capacity to handle increased traffic or evolving needs can hinder the UX strategy, compromising the system’s ability to adapt to changing needs.
  • Security vulnerabilities: The last thing you want is to expose sensitive data. A security breach compromises your data, damages user trust, and has legal and financial implications. And, let’s face it, nobody’s got time for that.
  • Mountains of maintenance: As with anything done poorly from the get-go, it’ll require a ton of maintenance and updates to make it usable. This can lead to increased costs, resource allocation, and potential disruptions to the UX. What’s more, a lack of foresight and planning during systems designs makes maintenance and upgrades more challenging, stunting the execution of UX strategies.


How to fix poor systems design

Although the main components of knitting are wool and needles, these aren’t the only requirements: You need a pair of hands, a brain that knows how to knit, a pair of scissors, and a few fun colours to make the sweater a bit uglier than it might otherwise have been.

Same goes for systems design.

A few factors influence the overall look and feel of the system. Here are six elements to consider during systems design:

  1. Remember the map
    You can’t knit a sweater out of a tangled mess. It’s just not possible. You also can’t just take yarn, needles, and scissors, throw them on the floor, and expect a sweater. There needs to be structure and organisation.
    Information architecture (IA) involves organising, structuring, and labelling information for practical navigation, search, and comprehension with a digital product or system. A coherent IA helps users find what they need quickly and effortlessly. Without it, you’re basically offering users a treasure hunt without a map.
    Invest time in creating a clear and intuitive information hierarchy that guides users to where they need to go.
  2. Less is more. Really!
    Complexity is the nemesis of any UX strategy because users are lazy. They crave simplicity and ease of use. (Have you ever tried getting sticky tape or chewing gum out of wool? Don’t bother.)
    Same goes for systems design. Don’t complicate navigation menus or make your users work for what they need. Embrace simplicity and user-friendliness – your UX will thank you for it!
  3. Consistency is key
    You can’t knit anything without counting the stitches. You’ll end up with a three-quarter sleeve on one arm and a full-length sleeve on the other. You need to keep it consistent.
    Now, imagine a website where every page looks and behaves differently. Even if your users aren’t perfectionists or obsessive-compulsive, they won’t be happy. Instead, maintain consistent visual elements, interactions, and terminology to keep the experience flowing and cohesive.
  4. Make info accessible
    This isn’t the 19th century. You don’t need to own a sheep or grow cotton to knit a sweater. So, unless you sell products and services to pirates, don’t make users go on quests to find stuff. Information that is difficult to find is non-existent information.
    Instead, make important information visible and easily accessible using intuitive search functionalities, clear labelling, and streamlined navigation to save users from embarking on arduous treasure hunts.
  5. Make it like dancing!
    Have you ever seen an experienced knitter knit? It’s extraordinary to watch. They could knit a sweater, binge crime investigation shows, have video calls with distant relatives, and still have a sleeve ready by dinner time.
    In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, users have little patience for sluggish interfaces, slow loading times, and clunky interactions. A delay of even a few seconds can send users packing. Optimise your system design to ensure speedy performance, efficient data retrieval, and seamless interactions.
  6. Avoid communication breakdowns
    “How about rainbows on your sweater?” “I’d prefer something neutral, please.” “Pastel rainbows it is, then!”
    Effective communication is the lifeblood of a successful UX strategy. Unclear instructions, confusing error messages, and misleading feedback can leave users scratching their heads. Instead, promote clear and concise communication, and offer meaningful guidance, actionable feedback, and transparent interactions to bridge the gap between your product and the users.


Ensuring your UX strategy knits together seamlessly

Ready to start knitting that UX sweater? Answer a few questions before, during, and after your systems design process.
Does my system:

  • Cater to the needs and goals of end-users?
  • Have key features, tasks, and actions that users can perform?
  • Have intuitive interfaces, minimal cognitive load, and clear instructions to enhance the system’s overall usability?
  • Have an information architecture that facilitates easy access to information and smooth user journeys?
  • Meet the performance requirements to handle user load, future growth, and scalability?
  • Integrate well with other existing systems and platforms?
  • Consider user privacy preferences and provide transparent information handling practices?
  • Align with my brand’s identity in terms of the overall aesthetics? (e.g. colour schemes, typography, layout, imagery, etc.)
  • Have mechanisms for gathering user feedback and insights?

If not, or you’re completely overwhelmed with sweaters, UX, and systems, get in touch. We’re good at systems design (not knitting).

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